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A Smooth Season for Fulham

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LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22:  Mohammed Al Fayed of Fulham waves to the crowd after the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Arsenal at Craven Cottage on May 22, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Mohammed Al Fayed of Fulham waves to the crowd after the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Arsenal at Craven Cottage on May 22, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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A wise advert once suggested that being in the middle is unsurpassed. 'It's not skinny marge, and it's not full fat butter.'

Of course, things don't work with quite the same alignment in football, where a ton of lard is all but the equivalent to a ton of trophies. 

However, Fulham FC do, whether you deem it relishable or not, occupy the very place in the market of football as Clover do in the market of affordable spread. The Cottagers can't boast the finest talents or flaunt the biggest cheques, but we've departed the times of relegation woes, financial obscurity and prosaic play.

And, this indecisive self-identification is perfectly exemplified in a 2010/11 season without blemishes but without flourishes. Craven Cottage has witnessed displays of the finest endeavour, followed meekly by performances of dire intention; without intuition and without confidence.

A self-confessed drubbing at home to the dishevelled West Ham United all but epitomised an early season that added fuel to the claims that this West London side of such recent stardom were reaching the head of spiral downwards that only a miracle would halt.

The fans were dismayed as the men on the pitch struggled to grasp a newly inherited style of play and, despite the man's paralleled failures at Anfield, many were pining for the hero of SW6 that is Roy Hodgson to return to the banks of the Thames.

A heroic rebound that would have, at the time, been more popular than a retreat from Charlie Sheen in his threat to quit Two and A Half Men, never materialised though. Nor was one necessary.

Mark Hughes, under ever more pressure, took his Fulham side by the scruff of the neck and finally delivered on a promise that there is more than just Hodgson to this new Fulham era. There's progression to be made and such forecasts were gratefully displayed in a second half of the season fought with such great aptitude that, were it not for the white shirts, a neutral could have been fooled into thinking the Cottage was actually Old Trafford. 

The later part of the season wasn't without its disappointments, though. An F.A Cup run that showed enormous promise and provoked such longing musings from the Fulham faithful was, eventually, shot down with little in the way of any determination or retaliation from a side that had given England the evidence that we weren't to be messed with, after beating Spurs 4-0; barely losing out breaths.

Draws were still omnipresent and goals weren't wholly forthcoming until the team set its inhibitions free after breaking the 40-point barrier. Still, though, the team provided a brand of football throughout the season that was comforting and self-gratifying, which not only brought us victories, but fans.

And, far from me to undermine the standing of our great club, but eighth is a very respectable position for a club of our size and, given an injury list that would touch the floor, even if Brede Hangeland were holding it, a top 10 finish at all is an achievement worth noting.

Admittedly, 2010/11 hasn't been the most exhilarating of terms. It hasn't brought us once-in-a-lifetime finals and our almost annual humiliation of Manchester United hasn't materialised, yet, taking all things into consideration, Fulham FC have taken a giant leap in the right direction.

Player of the Season: Clint Dempsey. A midfielder by trade, but a striker by credentials. The Texas-born star has been a breath of fresh air and it was genuinely warming to see a Fulham player appear in the top-scorers chart week-by-week in my daily newspaper. It's not his favourite position but he has performed admirably in the role, using his feet as exquisitely as ever but even more potently, his head. The aerial threat he's provided over the year may even rival Bobby Zamora.

Signing of the Season: Moussa Dembele. No contest here. The Belgian has been a brilliant piece of business for Mark Hughes and while it's painful to think it, it's palpable that it won't be long before this inhumanely skilful striker will ply his trade at one of the best clubs around. Even in his days of lesser fitness, the innate flair in him has caused so many problems for opposition defences that I expect a few have had nightmares.

Game of the Season: Fulham 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur. Retrospectively, this game had little effect in the end, but at the time, this victory seemed to not only solidify Mark Hughes in our hearts, but it gave us hope of another infamous cup run. It didn't come but that should't detract from what was a memorising performance.

Season Rating: 7/10. No silverware but no relegation. Add to that our second best finish in the Premiership and its difficult to look negatively on what has been a fantastic first year for Mark Hughes as Fulham boss.